Is this my country?

When I ask myself ‘do I belong to a country or is a country mine?’ I stumble, sadly, on a simple reply… No.

I would give many years of my life to be called a Londoner, or a Mancunian, or even a Glaswegian.  Then, I could have some roots, an ordinary past and traditions. But sadly, I did not choose where to be born and the country of my birth is not mine any more.

I was born in Poland, in Lvov, which is now part of the Ukraine. Does that make me Polish or Ukrainian? I do not speak Polish (wilfully or not) I have forgotten it and each time I meet an old Pole, a lump arises in my throat. Was it one of them, I think?

Who?

During the war, in a remote Polish village, a family, in return for money, hid my brother and myself. He was 7 and I was 9. When the money ran out, or even before perhaps; they called in an SS man. Although I was too afraid to look him in the face, I remember his shiny boots very well. He and that family killed my brother and for some inexplicable reason, they let me go? Is this the country I want to call my own?

Never.

For many years, I tried to bury my past. I was French. I speak French, I know French history and its culture and my youth was spent there. I adapted to my new country and became part of it. As a young person, I was not a happy person, often irritable and tense, narrow minded and anti-social. At the time I had not realised it, but this had everything to do with my experiences during the war years.

“Why did you decide to come to England?” asks Eddy.

Well, I was 23, I wanted to travel and improve my English. 3 months would be enough, I assumed. I then met Norman and gave myself another 3 months which turned into 6 months, then 9 months then another 3 months and so on.

I have now lived in England for over 50 years. I have English sons, grandsons, an English husband and British passport. I feel completely at ease here. I understand the language, read and write correctly and even appreciate the English humour.

But, is England my country?

Do I feel a pride or a stir when people abroad ask me: “Where do you come from?” and I reply “England”.

Has this word England a smell of hyacinths? Is it an aria of Don Giovanni? Does it move me like a dark Caravaggio or make me dream like a star lit sky? Do I laugh, cry, scream when I hear it: or do I drop to my knees forever thankful for being accepted here?

I have lived here, I have loved here, given birth here and eventually found my equilibrium… and some peace. I am no longer afraid to say that I am Jewish, to speak of my past, to join protest marches or to give my opinion.

Here I am and here I stay.

The country of my adoption, of woodlands and hills and green meadows. The country of wonderful books and of semi-detached houses, of delayed trains and pubs on every street corner. Of people who call me ‘Love’.

How touched I was when I first heard it.

Yes, I am staying here.

But is this my country?

Please say yes.

J Webber.

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Sonia Says…

In one of the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, Rosh Hashanah messages he begins by saying ‘There are banks and accountants to tell us how to invest our money. Judaism tells us how to invest our time. That, according to the Rambam (Maimonides d.1204) is what Rosh Hashanah is about. The shofar he says, is G-d’s wake-up call.’

Sonia says:

At this, the most serious and reflective time in the Jewish calendar, it is a time for us each to ask ourselves what is our greatest investment? 

If we think about the concept of investment, it will be time not money that has given us the greatest rewards.  Some of that time would have given us personal reward – time studying, time spent travelling.  Some will have given us and another a shared reward – the time we spend nurturing our children, caring for a loved one, spending time with family and friends.

In the main though, these are activities we willingly give time to, but giving time to a stranger is one that reaps just as much if not more benefit to us than it does to the stranger.  Many communities this year will be turning to their members and, building on the momentum of the Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee will be asking individuals to think of giving time to either enhance community activity or more specifically to help another individual.

Charities like Jewish Care would not function without the generosity of time of our volunteers, those who work directly with people using our services, our lay leaders and fundraisers and those supporting back office functions.

The challenge to each of us is, when we look back next year and reflect what we have done, will we have heard the ‘wake-up call’ and will we be able to say we responded and invested our time for someone else’s benefit? 

Sonia Douek is Head of volunteering and community development at Jewish Care and has developed a strategy for the organisation that has seen the growth of volunteers in the organisation reach 2,800 people.

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Sonia says…

Jubilee Hour is a volunteer driven campaign which aims to recognise Her Majesty the Queen’s 60 years of public service by encouraging people to undertake 60 minutes of volunteer service, or an act of goodwill.

Sonia says :

This week Jewish Care signed up to Jubilee Hour, pledging 650,000 hours over the year to be dedicated to Her Majesty the Queen.  The easy part is dedicating the hours because we are blessed with so many wonderful volunteers giving so much of their time to enhance the lives of those who use our services and support our paid staff in the work we do.

The reasoning behind our pledge is something more deep rooted.  It is very often the case that minority groups are made to feel uncomfortable in supporting their own.  Why should they have services just for them at the exclusion of others who may benefit from their service? 

In the UK, however, we have the freedom to celebrate our identities and pledge our time for whatever cause we choose.  For many people in the Jewish community, their volunteering for a Jewish cause is as much an expression of their identity as attending synagogue, celebrating the Sabbath, and for those who choose a more secular lifestyle, it is more of an expression than any religious practice.

Volunteering connects people.  It is not a purely altruistic activity but one where the person giving time spends that time with others who share their passion or area of interest.   That in turn builds communities and allows people to have fuller lives and increase their social connections.

We only have to pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV to realise that having the choice to express your passion and identity is something so few people in the world have the opportunity to do.  It is for this reason that I feel pledging our volunteers’ hours as part of Jubilee Hour is a way of us acknowledging how lucky we are to be not only connected to the Jewish community but also citizens of the United Kingdom.

Sonia Douek is Head of volunteering and community development at Jewish Care and has developed a strategy for the organisation that has seen the growth of volunteers in the organisation reach 2,800 people.

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Sonia says…

There’s an interesting debate on The Guardian’s Facebook page where Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Timebank, points out that an astounding 70,000 volunteers have been recruited for the Games – the single biggest mobilisation of volunteers since the second world war. But the question really is, will this leave a legacy of volunteering that will impact after the games?

Sonia says:

All of us who work in the voluntary sector understand or are learning that those who volunteer their time today, as opposed to those who did so at the end of the second world war, do so for a number of very different reasons.

At the end of the war, when women were not relied on to go to work as well as support their children and families, a whole army of women turned to volunteering. Much of this was the beginning of the voluntary sector we know today, and those women defined the shape of our organisations and saw their volunteering as their career path. Communities were closer knit and people wanted to become involved in their community because they felt a connection and a duty to do so.

Today volunteering is very different. Indeed the roles at the Olympics highlight this. People use their talents and skills for a particular role, often so that they gain work experience or because it brings them into a connection with people with similar interests and passions. Volunteers in the Olympics may, as one respondent on the Facebook page says, be doing this to gain tickets, but others will be pursuing a passion or dream such as drumming at the opening ceremony or just being part of such a big and amazing event.

If that is their reasoning, we have to ask how can we use their drive, passion, skills and interests in less high profile volunteering roles, where the instant gratification is more subtle?

How can we show them that their talents and skills for singing, dancing and drumming can bring immeasurable joy to a small group of people with dementia, even if tomorrow they don’t remember the performance? How can we show them that driving a couple of people to a day centre so that they can see their friends, talk with another person, and connect to their community is even more amazing than taking an athlete down the Olympic lane to compete in their event?

For all of us in the voluntary sector, this is our challenge. But not only ours – it is the challenge of those organising the Games’ volunteers to see how they can channel that energy and connect them back to their communities once the Games is over. Will this happen? Only time will tell.

Sonia Douek is Head of volunteering and community development at Jewish Care and has developed a strategy for the organisation that has seen the growth of volunteers in the organisation reach 2,800 people.

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Sonia says…

What does the word ‘Care’ mean to you?  For George Ames, he questions this as a four-letter word beginning with C. Care: with images of wipe-clean seats, tell-tale smells, misery, reliance on others and downward spiral. Guardian Professional Tuesday 24 July 2012.

Sonia says:

For George this is an interpretation of a noun often associated with the custody of someone such as children who are ‘taken into care’.  For me though the opportunity to work in a caring profession, where the emphasis of the verb conjures up consideration, attention and nurturing, working in the care field is one full of joy.

Instead of misery and smells I see the joy in meeting people with interesting lives, men with old-fashioned charm, women with interesting stories and the openness to say things as they are.

It is also the opportunity to mix with people from all walks of life and all backgrounds.  Not just those who we care for, but the wonderful staff and volunteers who care for our older people with love and respect.

George Ames is right, those of us with a good experience of the care world need to shout about the wonderful people who see beyond the frailty and create meaningful lives for people who may need some support but still need the opportunity to feel they can take control of those lives and give something to others.

Just two weeks ago I had the privilege of talking to a care worker who does a twelve hour night shift in one of our homes.  Having received his first degree in Nigeria, he now works with some of the most vulnerable people in our community whilst completing a law degree and a law conversion during the day.  Impressive enough, but the dedication and commitment he has to his residents shone through as well as his humility around his achievements.

These are the people we should focus our attention on, that and lobbying the government to recognise that those from diverse community backgrounds bring a caring approach to their work for very little financial reward.  The majority of people who work in the four letter ‘care’ field of older people are not ogres they are angels and they can see beyond the wrinkles and frailty to the deeper core of the person beneath.  Both our older people and those who care for them should be our heroes and, using another synonym for care – we should cherish them.

Sonia Douek is Head of volunteering and community development at Jewish Care and has developed a strategy for the organisation that has seen the growth of volunteers in the organisation reach 2,800 people.

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Sonia says…

It’s an inescapable fact, everyone grows old. The over 65′s are the fastest growing age group in Britain and by 2030 it’s estimated that a quarter of the population will be over the age of 65. When I’m 65 is a challenging new BBC One primetime season set to tackle a subject that affects everyone: ageing.

Sonia says :

These programmes should be essential viewing for the under 65s but I suspect that it is only those of us who work with older people, or older people themselves who have taken the time to actually watch them.

Why should this be essential viewing?  Firstly because they highlight the needs that many people over 65 have – financial, caring (whether as the recipient or the caregiver), physical, emotional and the overriding theme of isolation.

More importantly though they show that none of these needs or situations should mean that life is over and we become useless and a drain on our families and society just because our age exacerbates many of life’s challenges.

Last week Jewish Care celebrated the contribution that so many people make to Jewish Care through their volunteering.  The richness of this contribution is in no small way the result of the time and commitment so many older people give to their fellow community members.  Our celebration of volunteering recognises the contribution of people from the age of 16 to those over the age of 90.  Their contribution, whether sharing a skill, helping the teams who work in our office, fundraising, using their expertise to represent others or make decisions, is breathtaking and creates an organisation that is rich and diverse.  From the school boy who provides musical entertainment in a dementia home to our unsung hero who takes the train from East to Central London 3 times a week at the age of 91 so that she can support those she sees as more lonely and isolated than she is – their commitment puts all of us to shame.

If this example could be rolled out throughout our society programmes such as the When I’m 65 series would be unnecessary because we would recognise the value we all can give to others and the part we all should play in ensuring everyone continues to be a valued and respected member of society from cradle to grave.

Sonia Douek is Head of volunteering and community development at Jewish Care and has developed a strategy for the organisation that has seen the growth of volunteers in the organisation reach 2,800 people.

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Sonia says…

This week in the middle of all the Jubilee celebrations another celebration is quietly taking place.  Volunteers’ Week 2012, with its theme of ‘Inspiring and Celebrating’ is, to quote Justin Davis Smith, Chief Executive of Volunteering England ‘about celebrating the millions of individuals who donate their time throughout the year’.

Sonia says :

At Jewish Care we are really fortunate that over 3,000 people each year give their time to benefit us and those who use our services.

Three years on from the launch of a new strategy for volunteering we are seeing people engaged in the organisation through company volunteering schemes, school projects, one off opportunities that are responsive to individual’s needs and of course those regular volunteers who tirelessly come in week after week supporting us with administration, fundraising and providing activities and companionship to those who are more isolated in the community.

If it were not for the workforce of volunteers that give of their time, we would have to raise a further £9.25 million pounds to fill their boots.  More importantly though, if many of these individuals did not give of themselves, there would be people in our community who would not have a meaningful conversation with another human being from one week to the next.

You don’t have to be a volunteer for a large organisation to make a difference, although being part of a wider group will give you the support you need and your own friendships with other volunteers.  If this is not for you though, why not just take it upon yourself to look in on a neighbour?  Your time and interest is more precious when you share it with another person.

Sonia Douek is Head of volunteering and community development at Jewish Care and has developed a strategy for the organisation that has seen the growth of volunteers in the organisation reach 2,800 people.

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